Wednesday, April 18, 2018

I was a Professional Alcoholic

But not how you think.

For roughly ten years I was a professional alcoholic. I don’t mean that I had a problem which destroyed my life or that I’m belittling those who are struggling with the disease, only that alcohol was threaded throughout my job description. It was an essential component of every successful project.

Consulting, especially the kind that I did—turning around failing projects or executing complex system migrations (sometimes they overlapped)—involved rapidly adapting to the needs of a situation while also building as much rapport as possible with your new teammates. The quickest way to get to know a beleaguered employee was through a stiff drink. You learn their stressors, what office politics to avoid, and also had the opportunity to tell them you’re there to help, not steal their job. It’s amazing how many times that last one was necessary.

In my almost decade of professional boozing I only encountered one person who did not imbibe. The entire team for one of my Florida gigs went out for a moral event (this project had been particularly demoralizing) and this fellow ordered a glass of milk at the bar. Milk. At a tropical themed bar. He wasn’t in AA just didn’t like the taste of any alcohol. Kudos to him for sticking to his guns, but he was the single case across all my work in the US and the UK which is a strong indicator that liquor and capitalism go hand-in-hand.

So what do you do when you’re back in the civilian world? No more expense accounts or deductible dinners. Unless your circle of friends is filled with bartenders you get a lot of sideways looks. Or blank stares when you talk about your favorite cocktail fueled memories. Or you find yourself babysitting when everyone else is stumbling by drink two. It’s a strange space to inhabit by yourself. Few people can relate to the experiences unless they too had traveling or sales jobs. You’re left with a a particular set of skills and nowhere to use them.

Granted, I’ve been stuck in beer can cities when I have martini tastes which doesn’t endear me to the locals, so maybe if I was into crushing cans of PBR for social engagement then I would discover some boozy brethren. I’m in no rush to find out.

I weirdly miss those times from my consulting days. The cocktails were tasty, but it’s the camaraderie part that has left a hole. The sense that we were all in it together, fighting the good fight, and rallying ourselves for another attempt to climb the mountain. A couple of those nights created lasting friendships. We’re all scattered across the globe now, but when we do have the luck of being in the same city, it’s as if no time had passed at all.

Still, it’s odd admitting that alcohol plays a key part in determining your tribe, those people who vibrate at the same frequency as you do. I guess that’s one of the benefits of age. You give less a shit what others think and are more accepting of your authentic self. So I’ll raise a glass to those of us who were paid to hit the bars. We’re a rambunctious bunch, but I’m happy to have been in your ranks.

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